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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No attitude for altitude

In the modern world, seeing or hearing a few planes is normal. Plus, UA’s campus is only about eight miles away from the Tucson International Airport and seven miles away from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, so we expect airplane activity to be a part of our daily lives. But, doesn’t it seem like there’s been extra overhead activity during these past few weeks? Many students have started to notice that, recently, there have been more military planes in the air than usual. These flights seem louder, more frequent and even closer to the ground than we’re used to.

At first, this kind of noise is annoying. Sometimes, a plane is so powerful that it flies over our campus and disrupts classrooms for a moment. The walls shake slightly, and professors raise their voices to speak over the loud engines. Likewise, students walking across the UA Mall stop and look up in the air as several military planes drone across the sky in formation. And, if you’re on the phone when a plane passes overhead, the person on the other end will surely comment or ask what the commotion was about.

But what’s up with the increase in these kinds of events lately? In an e-mail interview last week, Capt. Stacie Shafran, a chief of the U.S. Air Force and representative for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, offered important information concerning the recent activity. Her explanation is helpful to see what’s really going on beyond just what we see and hear.

As Safron explained, the Air Force recognizes Tucson as one of the most ideal places to train its pilots. First, the terrain of southern Arizona is very similar to deployment areas like Iraq and Afghanistan.Similarly, the weather is almost always ideal. Also, Tucson’s airspace is relatively open — meaning it’s much less populated by commercial aircrafts than other areas. And finally, the Davis-Monthan Base is very close to an important training field called Barry M. Goldwater Range. Shafran tells us that, “”With all those factors considered, it would be really difficult to replicate this level of training at any other location.””

So, the conditions are ideal. But for what kind of training? And why is there more of it now? Shafran explains, “”Especially in the winter months, the 162nd Air National Guard’s Operation Snowbird is very active.”” This program opens up Davis-Monthan airfield to visiting air forces from other nations. A recent press release describes Operation Snowbird more specifically: from February until March, planes from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force will be operating in Tucson. This training is vital preparation for upcoming deployments.

Operation Snowbird may also be the reason that noise levels are so much higher right now. Shafran describes that the noise level we experience on any given day is subjective, depending on what kinds of planes are being trained at the time. In fact, Davis-Monthan’s primary mission is to train A-10 pilots, and A-10 planes are only as loud as commercial airliners. However, because of Operation Snowbird, “”visiting units bring whatever aircrafts they normally fly — they just use our airfield. It could be F-16s, F-15s or even European jets like the French Mirage or British Tornado.”” These aircrafts, as well as some others that are trained at Davis-Monthan, tend to be much louder. Shafran clarifies that, “”because their engines are built for heavy duty, fast and agile modern air warfare, they generate a lot of power. More power equals more noise.””

In this way, loud noise may make the planes seem much lower than they are. But we can rest assured, “”There’s no reason why jets would be flying very close to the ground. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the aircraft will always be flying above 1,000 feet.”” In addition, Shafran is sure to note that any air force training is always safe for the surrounding communities. She states, “”In all cases, the planes you see soaring over Tucson are piloted by highly disciplined individuals who are already qualified to fly after completing months of intense training.””

With all of this information in mind, we can start to realize that there is a much larger picture at hand. It’s obvious that our city, community and university are safe from any air force activity going on at Davis-Monthan. And although we experience slight disturbances on occasion, Tucson’s Air Force Base is in the middle of some serious training, especially during this month. The work they do is vital to the U.S. Air Force and even allies in other countries. Sure, we may be momentarily interrupted by the overhead activity, but it’s for a good reason.

—Miranda Butler is a creative writing sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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